Abstract

Concern with social and moral reform plays an important thematic role in the Analects, and the text discusses a number of possible responses to a morally failing society. This essay offers an account of engagement, withdrawal, and social reform in the Analects, then places the issue of social reform in a contemporary context through a comparative and critical discussion of the Analects and the book Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah et al. It is argued that Confucius rejects the option of complete withdrawal from society, even where such withdrawal aims to preserve personal moral integrity. However, Confucius also cautions against deep involvement with corrupt regimes and suggests that reformers must withdraw from particular institutions when moral engagement is impossible within them. The recommendations found in Habits of the Heart strikingly parallel many of those in the Analects, particularly in emphasizing individual engagement and reinvigoration of tradition as sources of social renewal. Although traditions require critical examination in contemporary contexts, the idea—found in both texts—that engagement in social reform can benefit the reformer as well as society more broadly remains important and relevant today.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 369-390
Launched on MUSE
2010-07-15
Open Access
No
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